on April 11, 2012
"Courts and Courtly Arts in Renaissance Italy" is a handsome volume, with 275 plates (almost all in color), covering politics, art and architecture in the various courts in Italy from 1395-1530. The work includes an introduction, a chapter on the political geography of the peninsula (illustrated with excellent maps), a chapter each on literature and music, and then a series of detailed articles on art and architecture in the various courts (Milan, Mantua, Urbino, Florence, Ferrara, etc.), interspersed with a few short chapters on ancillary matters (art in Venice, triumphal processions...), followed by a comprehensive bibliography. The reproductions, and the quality of the paper and the binding are all good.
The individual chapters are written by different Italian scholars. This leads to some overlap/repetition of information from chapter to chapter, and to a certain degree of variability in the focus and quality of each article. In terms of focus: some scholars seem more comfortable with political history, some more with discussing painting or architecture. For quality: some chapters (like the one on court literature) are too slight, and the article on the Este court of Ferrara could have used additional images to illustrate the text. There is also little discussion of the specifics of patronage or of artistic institutions.
The work also suffers from a number of editorial problems, the most glaring being issues with the translation from Italian to English: errors with English hyphenation, some untranslated picture captions (e.g. "Parigi" for "Paris"), the awkward presence of two alternate translations (one in brackets), the inconsistent use of translated terms and names from article to article, etc. In addition, I would have appreciated the inclusion of dates in the captions for the works of art depicted, and the volume could have benefited from a glossary of art-historical terms, an appendix with genealogies/family trees of the various courts, and a chronological list of the Emperors and Popes.
On the whole, the work is an interesting portrayal of a specific historical moment of cultural production -- the building of court palaces, funerary monuments, churches, urban squares; and the patronage of visual artists, musicians, chapel choirs, poets -- linked to the expansion and maintenance of Italian courtly power (the impact of which would be felt throughout Europe in the following centuries), but the volume functions best as a "coffee table book" or as a handsome addition to a book collection, not as an introduction for the uninitiated to Italian Renaissance art.